A live recording of the premiere performance of John Cage's "33 1/3" at the University of California at Davis on Nov. 21, 1969. The work was really a sort of participatory sound installation in which 24 turntables with independent stereo speakers and almost 300 LP records were placed around a large room without any chairs. The audience that entered the room didn't get any instructions, although there was an "attendant" on hand to assist with operating the equipment if needed. The end result was that after a while, people started putting records on the phonographs and making sounds of their own as well. In classic Cageian style this indeterminate work breaks down the barriers between audience and performer, and sound and music, all the while requiring nothing more from the audience/participant than an open ear and curious mind.
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April 25, 2012 Subject:
Centenary Installation of John Cage's 33-1/3 at TMA
John Cage 33-1/3 Turntable Installation Reviewed by Huck Finch
The John Cage turntable installation at the Tampa Museum of Art entitled "John Cage's 33-1/3-- Performed by Audience, A Celebration of the Centenary of the Composer's Birth" is an "audience participation" piece conceived in 1969. Various artists including Yoko Ono, Iggy Pop and David Byrne selected vinyl records to fill bins that lined the walls. The dozen or so portable-style record players with built in speakers stood ominously in the middle of the room. Museum patrons were invited to randomly play the records, thus becoming part of the exhibit.
As we arrived a mother and her teen daughter stood at one of the players meekly listening to something barely audible like they were learning to cook an egg for the first time, completely missing the point in our humble estimation.
I strode in with ex-wife, Dolly and nine-yr-old daughter, Morgana, who saw that I could barely contain my enthusiasm, and set up a video camera on a corner table. The security guard promptly wagged his finger. We pleaded with him to let us block the lens or face it to the wall and only record sound - No cameras period.
OK, time for Merzbow "Rectal Anarchy," the noisiest, most obnoxious record in my personal collection with a pink-toned close up of an anal sphincter on the cover. It was brought from home and permitted into the exhibit.
The first security guard lasted about thirty more seconds. After he marched out, the camera was immediately set up in a bag and turned on, unfortunately malfunctioning after all.
We rifled through the bins like sugared-up kids in a candy store. Such rare gems as Morton Sobotnik's Silver Apples of the Moon, Capt. Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and Air Supply's Greatest Hits set the stage for an hour of Sonic Irritation and Difficult Listening, not for the "weak of ear."
Christian Marclay who famously applied the cut up method to vinyl LP's offered forth a selection of red vinyl including one by Alvin and the Chipmunks. It sounded awesome at 78 rpms and even better when we added Sinatra's Strangers in the Night to the platter next door. Even Bach became tolerable at 78 rpm with eleven other songs nearly drowning him out.
The brutish cacophony, we discovered, could be heard throughout the museum. Half way through we turned everything down and cranked Hell Awaits by Slayer all by itself - because we could. Yoko Ono chimed in cheerfully at 45rpms crooning on Between My Head and the Sky and blended nicely with Red Red Groovy Is This Heaven? and Brian Jones Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. Dolly stuck with her old favorites, finding a nice track called Feedback on a Grateful Dead record and doing a better job than myself driving onlookers from the room when she whipped out Saturday Night Fever. Of the brave few who ventured into the room only one gentleman interacted with the exhibit. We turned nearly everything down and acted nonchalant to see what he would do. He played a single record, grinned and walked out. Someone who looked like a manager strolled through quickly. I asked him if he thought John Cage would be proud. "Who is John Cage?" he answered. Five security guards each took ten minute shifts.
Morgana reclined on the sofa and began to worry about us, patiently waiting for her turn at the Children's Museum next door where we were stuck carrying the Rectal Anarchy record. It was left sitting idle at several stations in the Children's Museum while we played with the children and we had to wonder how many people realized there was a photograph of a giant asshole staring at them from an album cover. Finally, she shouted, "Five more minutes, Dad, and we're out of here!"
This was musical anarchy at its utmost! I declared, "We're going out with a BANG!" and gathered all the noisiest recordings in the room, turning the volume to 100% and filling every player. Dolly, of all moments, found a record she actually wanted to hear, and followed me around the circle turning all the knobs off. I continued going around turning them all back on. Morgana finally found some humor in the madness.
There was no time for experiments like playing all four John Cage records together and at different speeds, or along with Harry Partch.
"I don't get it," said one guard to another as we exited, leaving the machines spewing repellently at full bore.
Plan: return before exhibit ends with recording device hidden on person, more records, hobby horses for all, smelly person with pup tent to set up in the corner holding picket sign reading "QUIET!!!" and maybe masks, animals, food, contingent of Hare Krishnas playing musical instruments (assortment of 36 noise makers, deer and duck callers, etc.) and hope we have not already been blacklisted. Dolly will stand by with bail money.